The Blaine County School District board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to extend the contract of Superintendent Lonnie Barber by another year, making the contract now effective until July 1, 2016.
In approving the contract extension, the board disregarded a last-moment effort by an opposition group calling itself the No on Barber Campaign. On Monday and Tuesday, the group organized an email and letter campaign seeking to persuade the school board to not approve the extension.
In its literature, the group blamed Barber for pending multi-million-dollar litigation between the district and its energy contractor, McKinstry Essention, and claimed that district test scores and graduation rates are “significantly lower than the best districts in Idaho.”
“The last day and a half I kind of felt like a punching bag, and maybe that’s not undeserved,” said Trustee Paul Bates prior to the vote Tuesday. “But it’s painful that the staff is treated like a punching bag because a lot of the decisions sit right here.”
The motion to approve the contract extension was made by Bates and seconded by Trustee Shawn Bennion.
Prior to the vote, board Chair Steve Guthrie said an extensive evaluation process involving board members and administrators was conducted regarding Barber’s performance and that the board remains satisfied with his leadership.
“This board took it very seriously,” Guthrie said.
Barber became superintendent in July 2009 following the resignation of former Superintendent Jim Lewis. He served as assistant superintendent for two years before that, having given up a job as superintendent of the Caldwell School District.
Barber’s original contract as superintendent was for three years. Tuesday’s vote was the fourth year in a row that the school board has added another year to it.
Four Blaine County residents spoke about the contract extension during the meeting’s public comment period.
Hailey resident Pamela Plowman complained that the district spends far more per student than do other school districts in Idaho.
“We’re not even performing to the average of Idaho but we’re spending all this money,” Plowman said. “If we want to continue to spend like this, we should continue with Dr. Barber, but if we don’t, then we should find another way.”
Ellen Mandeville read a letter she said was from semiretired pediatrician Gary Hoffman in which he complained that “a diploma from Wood River High School was worth little more than something useful to line a birdhouse.”
“I feel that Mr. Barber’s ideas of superior higher education are so inconsistent with those of the bulk of parents in this community that he has effectively terminated his usefulness here,” Hoffman’s letter stated.
Elizabeth Schwerdtle said the No on Barber Campaign generated “100 responses within 24 hours.”
“I think that’s something worth listening to,” Schwerdtle said.
Sheri Thomas acknowledged that the board had conducted an extensive evaluation but said that in the future the evaluation should include the public.
Nonetheless, board members were adamant in their support of Barber.
“Dr. Barber has put in a tireless effort to do what the board has asked him to do,” Bennion said. “Dr. Barber is looked at as one of the leaders in the state by superintendents. People value his opinions. I’m glad we have him.”
Vice Chair Don Nurge said the main complaints he heard from those opposed to the contract extension concerned the McKinstry litigation and claims that student performance was “dismal.”
“I don’t believe our district is performing dismally,” Nurge said. “Of course there’s room for improvement. We’re getting what we pay for. We have a lot of challenges that other districts don’t face.”
Regarding the McKinstry litigation, Nurge said: “Dr. Barber is fighting for what’s best for the district. In the end, we’re doing what’s right.
“I’m proud of Dr. Barber and what he’s accomplished and the leadership he’s shown.”
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org